There they were, man: The Golden State Warriors, three brutal and humbling years removed from their last Finals appearance, four years and Kevin Durant removed from their last championship, grayer and somewhat slower and so much more mortal than then, and champions again.
Professional basketball is not in general noted for its generosity. Reaching the top of the hill even once is absurdly difficult and unlikely, far surpassing the ability of even Hall-of-Fame players to simply will into being; even those who do everything right will still need something more than that, some good fortune, some unearned grace, to get there. The converse of this is true, too: Even the smallest of stumbles at the wrong moment, the least dispensation of rotten luck, can suffice to keep a ring permanently out of reach of even genuinely great players and teams. Charles Barkley never got there even once; what was it like for him to be sitting in the Inside the NBA studio watching on television the night Matthew Dellavedova did? This shit has a cruel sense of humor when given a chance to show it.
Diminishment and lost time are its favorite openings, especially when they visit players in their 30s. Kobe Bryant tore his Achilles at 34 and by the time he came back he was, by miles, the worst player in the sport. Michael Jordan changed his mind about retirement (the second time), came back to the sport he’d done more to grow than anyone else in its history, and was an earthbound shell of himself; he did not get to choose a graceful exit a third time, because the friggin’ Washington Wizards fired him when they decided he’d helped them sell enough season tickets. Russell Westbrook lost a step and became, nigh instantaneously, a bizarre parody of basketball, a walking LOSE button. And so on.
This Warriors championship was very improbable, that is to say, even after accounting for the cosmic unlikelihood of a team as good as the dynastic last-decade Warriors coming into being in the first place. They lost Kevin Durant; they lost knee ligaments; they lost years. And there they were again! Champions of the world! The same core of guys from back at the beginning, having stuck together and bet on each other and accomplished something that simply does not happen. There they were.
And here was NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum, presenting the Larry O’Brien trophy, before any Warriors players or coaches got to lift it, to these fucking schmucks:
That’s Joe Lacob on the left, and Peter Guber on the right. They are the owners of the Golden State Warriors franchise, which is to say that they are the rich lumps of worthless dogshit who bought the privilege of extracting from the Golden State Warriors players and coaches (and trainers and arena staff and doctors and drivers and cooks and and and and) a percentage of the money earned only and entirely by the work those other people do, and then having many tens of millions of braindead idiots out in the world describe this skimming operation as them paying all those other people’s salaries. It is the NBA’s custom, in the ceremony celebrating when a team wins a championship, for these parasites to be the first to the trophy and to the microphone, in acknowledgment of the fuck-all they did to deserve even being allowed in the building.
Literally the first question Lisa Salters asked any member of the organization at the ceremony marking the Warriors’ victory in the 2022 NBA Finals began with the words When you purchased the team.
Which meant that before the global audience got to hear, say, Klay Thompson speak joyfully about what the support of his teammates and coaches meant to him as he spent two years recovering from profound injuries to both legs, or the affirmation of having returned to that podium from setbacks that might have made any normal person accept the end of their career, we all had to endure this…
…from some grinning old bag of crap who contributed precisely jack shit to the effort, beyond not having exercised the bought privilege of jettisoning Thompson against his will to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the interim. “On the parquet floor, two Boston guys [that’d be himself and Lacob], winning it at the Garden,” is what this championship means to the asshole who never so much as placed a toe on that parquet floor during the actual series of basketball games that decided the championship. For this shit, the trophy’s actual winners had to stand by.
Everything about this gives the lie to the NBA’s bullshit self-presentation, as an entertainment spectacle whose consumers are basketball fans and whose protagonists are basketball players and teams. Not one of those basketball fans, anywhere on the globe, is more interested in what Joe Lacob has to say about the Warriors winning the 2022 Finals than about what Steph Curry or Klay Thompson or Draymond Green—or, hell, Jonathan Kuminga—has to say about it. Not one of them considers Peter fucking Guber’s perspective a more meaningful summation of the journey to that championship than Steve Kerr’s. No more than one out of any random 200 basketball fans—hell, probably not four out of any 200 dedicated Golden State Warriors fans—could even tell you with any precision who Peter Guber is. That’s because, as far as the basketball games played by the basketball players and watched by the basketball fans are concerned, he is no one. Nobody wants to hear this shitbag’s jokes!
Except his own cohort, that is. Who else matters? In this—in forcing this shit to the front of the line, ahead of what any of the fans or players or coaches would rather see—the NBA is showing you, for just a moment, how it views itself, once a season’s worth of product is already sold and out the door and there will be no refunds: As a low-stakes contest among a fraternity of sedentary old billionaire investor-class scumbags in suites. The players, the coaches, the fans, the arena: Those are all just projections of the owners, who are both the real actors and the real audience. The results validate the owners and give them bragging rights over their buddies, or do not. The real agency is theirs, the real success is theirs, the real emotions of triumph are theirs, the real vindication is theirs. The real entertainment is theirs. The real money is theirs, except what they deign to share with the people whose labors made any part of it happen. The championship is theirs. Why wouldn’t they want to hear what they themselves have to say about it? They’re the only real participants. That the microphones and cameras move away from the owners relatively quickly in these moments doesn’t make any of this less true. The brevity only adds to the indignity, as it signals that everyone involved—the networks, the commissioner, the rich bastards themselves—knows that nobody in the world wants to see this shit, but they must endure it anyway. They must be reminded who this is all for.
When they’ve had their say, when they’ve hoisted the trophy and talked about the feeling of having won it, themselves, through anything they did, the spotlight reverts to the players and coaches. That’s just a return to advertising. There’s another season to sell, after all.